A note: This is the fourth in the Cinépathétic series, a interview-style back and forth between me and the interesting people in my life, jabbering about movies and why we love them so damned much. This week, I’m interviewing Scott Kane, man of impeccable taste, student of law, and dear friend to me. Tonight, we discuss (rather drunkenly) the facets of Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Sandler, vague Germanic politics, and Uma Thurman. As usual, be wary for spoilers throughout, and please, enjoy.
Scott: Hey, no worries, Jarrod, it is sincerely my pleasure. Happy to inform you that I’ve got just enough wine to make up for complete lack of credentials for this exercise.
DR: I’m more than positive you’ll be able to handle yourself.
Scott: With the wine or the interview? I’m confidant in the former. Less certain about the latter.
DR: (laughs) I asked you for your Top 5. You gave me a very padded list. Where would you like to start?
Scott: Let’s start at the top and work our way down.
DR: Children Of Men, then. Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 dystopia that kicks all of the ass. No shock for me. I’d put that on my list.
Scott: I’m pleased to hear that. I saw the film with a group of college friends in theater. To my shock, I was the only one in the group of approximately five who enjoyed it. Enjoyed it too much maybe. I wouldn’t shut up about the film to my date or our company for the rest of the night.
DR: Really. Who were these other people, and howww did they not enjoy it? They gave their rationale, I’d hope.
Scott: I’m really dating myself here, but college was a while ago, so the specifics escape me. However, as best I recall, they thought it was a “bummer.” I’m inclined to agree, but I have an appetite for bummers.
DR: Certain bummers must be endured for such fare. Cuarón certainly held zero punches in putting this together, and the film as a whole is very bleak. But there is hope there.
Scott: Hm. Yes, I agree. Hope – for a favor from a cousin, for a way out of a crumbling ghetto building, for a better tomorrow – is a common theme in the film. However, I’m not really ready to cabin the film’s “theme” so narrowly.
DR: I would argue that any enthusiast for this film wouldn’t be prepared to hash these themes coherently without jettisoning the obvious hyperbole. But the end of humanity, as a broad theme itself, is always prevalent in near-future dystopia. But this time, there are no zombies, there is no outer-space dogfights. It’s just us. The last of us.
Scott: Yes! Yes precisely! I think the film really only uses “dystopia” as a lens to examine it’s central subject: the tragedy of humanity. Here, I mean tragedy in its traditional definition – a calamitous outcome, inexorability and inevitably seeded into its premise. I view the film as centrally preoccupied with the unavoidable negative consequences of human beings acting as humans do. Perhaps only slightly exaggerated by the fact that a redemptive “future” is robbed from them.
DR: And yet that inevitability has been surpassed: the “why” is covered, but the “how” is never clear. I think “divine intervention” is mentioned once as a flip excuse, however. Do you think Cuarón made this a deliberate narrative point? I mean, the story doesn’t suffer without the explanation.
Scott: I’m not sure what you mean by “the how.” Can you clarify?
DR: Well, the film deviates from the novel when explaining why humanity just can’t procreate: in the novel, men can’t shoot, in the film, women are infertile. But there is never a reason why this happens. What the film does offer though, is the chaos that is born from that despair.
Scott: Oh yes. I don’t really think that matters. To some extent, I applaud Cuarón for not dwelling on the topic. The film is so lean and perfect, we really don’t need some lengthy farcical explanation for why women are miscarrying. The Midwife’s account for the phenomenon really captures the true import – the terrifying consequences of a world without children’s laughter.
DR: When the playgrounds went silent.
Scott: Yeah. I mean, the film’s ability to illustrate the gravity of the imagined world’s desperation through illustration – rather than bland spoken exposition – is really masterful. The premise of the film, insofar as it is made “clear,” is articulated by the scenery our protagonists navigate. That ability – to provide exposition without speaking – is the trait of a brilliant story teller, and I have never seen another film which accomplishes it so well as Children of Men.
DR: Cuarón has stated that he wanted the end to be a window out towards a possibility of hope, that he wanted the audience to project their own ideas of hope on the ending. So if you’re half-full, great. Humanity has a chance. If you’re half-empty… Well. Maybe you’re a half-full kind of guy?
Scott: Me? I’m just pleased to have a glass. I think that a lot of my own personal ethical views are not preoccupied with descriptions of the world or outcomes from actions, but the bravery to attempt to realize what you – simple you – see as good in the world. May I say one thing before we move on?
Scott: The film is clearly preoccupied with eschatology. However, to simply write it off as a “preventing the end of times” story is, I think, myopic.
DR: And pointless.
Scott: A lot of great prescient authors squint into the future and come back with … less than enthusiastic field reports. Huxley, Orwell, and Kafka are, I think the most preeminent of the 20th century. As a shameless plug, I’ll say that Gary Shteyngart is best of the 21st century thus far. However, I think Children of Men – as a piece of media – deserves an almost exalted place in the dystopia canon. That exalted place is secured by the film’s shocking ability to capture 21st century man’s perception of his own end. No longer do we view the future as apocalyptic (the relgious nuts waiting for a sky daddy to punish and redeem) nor Utopian (Jasper rehashing the optismism of the 60s). Instead, that is all replaced with a brutal and suffocating pessimistic realism. The idea that wherever man goes, he will also follow … and predictably play out the same patterns of ruin and redemption.
DR: I absolutely agree. “Essential viewing,” as I say.
Scott: Also, as a last thought, do you want to know my favorite moment in the film?
DR: Yes! Absolutely!
Scott: When Theo, on his knees in a barren and filthy abandoned apartment, empties his ever present whiskey bottle to clean his hand to safely deliver Kee’s baby.
DR: Ah, Theo. He sobered up rather quickly, for my liking.
DR: (laughs) P.T. Anderson’s period piece on oil-man does good, then horrifically bad. This one is a stunner. Why did you pick it?
Scott: Oh god. This film has everything I love. Cruelty, masculinity, and America. I mean, if you want to go down the “cinema scorecard,” there are no low marks here.
DR: This film is also has the damning reputation of being rather bleak. But Daniel Day Lewis is such a powerhouse, it’s impossible to deny. What stays in your mind when you think of this film?
Scott: Bleak? Sure. Again, I don’t mind the bummers. What stays in my mind?
DR: Imagery, themes, milkshakes?
Scott: I’ve always been interested in artists who, in their tiny particularity, are able to perfectly articulate the general culture of a community. In this way, I see There Will Be Blood as P.T. Anderson basically playing a staring game with the American masculine identity and winning handily. There are depths of the individual masculine and national identity explored in this film that I have never ever seen probed before. Can I be – somehow – even more obnoxious than usual?
DR: (laughs) Go for it.
Scott: Former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once wrote an article in the Harvard Law Review called “The Path of the Law.” In plain language, he explores a lot of insightful ideas about legal realism, the common law, and the role of the individual in society —
DR: Wait – this is where the “milkshake” monologue came from, right???
Scott: EXACTLY. More seriously, the most relevant topic he speaks to is a simple question – what is the purpose law? His answer is to first imagine the heart of a very… very bad man, and then to imagine what rules would prevent that man from exploiting the community at large. Daniel Plainview is that man and, to some extent, I think the film is about the space American liberalism gives to men and the often ruthless men who occupy that space.
DR: Those rules and spaces being very obvious stepping stones for Plainview to tap dance upon. But that is the tremendous joy of watching There Will Be Blood.
Scott: Oh gosh yes. I’ve never been so afraid of myself as when I watch that film.
DR: What troubles you when you watch it?
Scott: Daniel Plainview is not a horror. He is not an exceptional or aberrant monster dragging himself piecemeal out of the swamp. What “troubles” me about the film is how perfectly it capture the ruthless, relentless, and scared animal that lives inside of every man. It terrifies me to remember there is something so dark and twisted inside of every fellow I pass on the street. If you ever meet a man who, upon observing a scene of violence, claims “I could never do that,” know that he is a liar. The capacity for great and terrible violence is within us all. ESPECIALLY within the scared and abandoned, like Daniel.
DR: Daniel Plainview is such a shit head – he recalls Day Lewis’ Bill The Butcher in Gangs Of New York, and yet there is a soul, albeit a black, black soul – but this film merits repeat viewings. I’ve seen it at least four times. It never ceases to be enthralling.
Scott: Yeah, agreed. Again, strip away the impeccable acting, the perfect score, and the genius photography, when you focus on the the film as a story about men in America, it becomes hypnotizing.
DR: P.T. Anderson has mentioned in interviews that he poured over the John Huston film Treasure Of The Sierra Madre – a personal favorite of mine – before he began shooting this film. Have you seen it?
Scott: Unfortunately, no. I’m not particularly well-versed in film classics. Do you “see” the influence?
DR: It’s brilliant. The dissolution of man’s spirit, in the name of greed. Humphrey Bogart’s character goes from a hard-luck fellow to a murderer all in the short span of one week, all in the search for gold. But he’s so blood-thirsty by the end of it, well… I won’t spoil it for you, you should see it, but I can absolutely see why Anderson used this for thematic inspiration. No doubt. Maybe a movie night soon.
Scott: Oh hell yes. You know that I’ve been planning a counter balance to Sam’s Shitty Movie Mondays right?
DR: No way. What’s on your mind?
Scott: Terrific Movie Thursday at my place. I am… still working on the title.
DR: (laughs) Maybe I can help. But COUNT ME IN. What’s next?
DR: (laughs) Another P.T. Anderson. I won’t count this as cheating. I’m positive you’ll appreciate that.
Scott: Your clemency is noted, Lord Jones.
DR: Only because I love it so much.
Scott: I’m glad to hear that. I sincerely respect your opinions on film and enjoy it when our tastes coincide.
DR: The title is killer. So is everything else about this film. Why is this here?
Scott: OKAY, SO… This is the only film I’ve ever seen that treats love like something more than a plot device.
DR: It’s an entity unto itself.
Scott: I have never ever more related to the horrifying reality of love as depicted in this film. So, a question. I am a little preoccupied with the treachery of memory. Have you ever chastised yourself for remembering things with a too thick a gloss of nostalgia or self-flattery?
DR: With film, especially.
Scott: Yeah, so this film calls bullshit on that narrative trick of the mind. We auto-correct or histories CONSTANTLY to preserve a sense of self-identity and importance. BUT. In reality, even in our most sublime moments – love – we are inept and angst ridden. We simply later remember them differently. I enjoy this film so much because it captures how much of an absolute clusterfuck human intimacy is. It’s abrupt, obtuse, blatantly rambunctious, and sincere, all at the same time. Is “clusterfuck” technical lingo in cinema?
DR: It’s scripture.
Scott: Also, as a pianist, I adore the film’s main metaphor.
DR: Which would be…
Scott: The harmonium of course! The fear, exhilaration, and joy of learning the new language of music. Of… love! Also, and this is just me being a dweeb, but I love that the harmonium, like Lena, simply ARRIVES on the doorstop of Barry. There is no sense of reason or desert. Love, like the grace of God, cannot be earned but only given into shaking hands.
DR: Er… you lost me.
Scott: (laughs) The harmonium just shows up. Barry doesn’t earn or anticipate it. The opportunity for growth through love arrive completely independent of his human agency. I love that. Love just happens and says “strap in, Shitbag, in a week you’ll be in Hawaii telling a girl you wanna smash her face in.”
DR: I mean, I understand, but is it all intuitive when it comes to Punch Drunk Love? I understand it is quite the poison pill to take, but there are other elements to acknowledge here, surely? Like for instance, we’re watching P.T. Anderson direct a fucking Adam Sandler movie? Absurd, no?
Scott: (laughs) Sure, but only when you think about it. Sandler does a fine job. I don’t know how or why he got cast in that role, but good for him. Something to balance out his unending parade of cinematic afterbirth. Jack and Jill, Click, etc.
DR: They’re pals, allegedly.
Scott: Unreal. Yo Jarrod, I have a question for YOU. What did you think of the Phillip Seymour Hoffman / phone-sex / revenge subplot?
DR: Surreal, and absolutely necessary. Otherwise, the film would have been twenty minutes long. Hoffman nails that shit. I’ll never forget when I saw the trailer to this at the State Theater in Ann Arbor, MI eons ago and he’s all, “SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP” into the phone. This film had me at “hello.”
Scott: Oh yeah! The State is awesome! Was in Ann Arbor last week. Full of… the young and beautiful. I hated them all so much. I loved the subplot for two reasons. One, the attempt to use shaming – “you’re a pervert!” – as a redirection of the core masculine element of sexuality into humiliation. AND Barry’s eventual reclamation of his sexuality. Two, Phillip Seymore Hoffman and Adam Sandler yelling is just a lot of fun. Dude. I am getting durnk.
DR: “Say ‘that’s that’, Mattress Man.”
Scott: OH GOD I LOVED IT. And when Hoffman tries to renege…
DR: “WHAT DID I TELL YOU.” Priceless.
Scott: (hands up) “That’s that!”
DR: What’s next?
DR: Well, this one won the 2006 Best Foreign Language Oscar, so don’t bet on it. I remember rooting for this one. I own it on DVD. It’s a spooky flick, when you consider governmental roles in the personal lives of private citizens. I’ve been excited to talk about this. Why did you pick this one?
Scott: Hmm. First, and perhaps most obviously, because I think it provides an intimate and arresting commentary on the perils of the modern American surveillance state. The film is set less than thirty years ago in a nation which, other than the U.K., most resembles the United States. Second, the film actually really transcends its particular subject matter.
DR: Years before the relevance stopped seeping, and began bleeding out.
Scott: Yeah… Probing the deeper questions of human ethical agency, the nature of art and destruction, and densely populated urban isolation. Lastly, because the film is masterfully executed. I have an extreme distaste for subtitles – I find them distracting and HATE the feeling of not knowing the precise language used. However, the acting, the writing, and the score are all … perfect. I am totally immersed when I watch this film.
DR: But it also was the first film to cover the events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall. And it is a German film. That alone illustrates audacity, more than anything I can think of when film collides with the real world. You’re distracted by subtitles?
Scott: Yes, unfortunately. I am a speedy reader, but repeating the kinetic add of “up and down” does interrupt my viewing experience. Plus, the imprecision of translation drive me wild. You know me, Jarrod. I love my words.
DR: I always felt that the subtitles added to the aesthetic of foreign cinema, that it was a crucial part of the experience – detached from the fact that it is actually a CRUCIAL part of the experience. I find myself more immersed sometimes with subtitles at hand. Maybe why I spend time watching Japanese Anime. And yes, you do love your words.
Scott: Different strokes, I suppose. I definitely prefer subtitles to the alternative of learning German…
DR: Without a doubt. There’s some serious heartbreak here, though. Weisler learns to actually care about the intended surveilled. As the spy, as film has taught us, he’s supposed to be cold, aloof, uncaring. But he actually interferes with his superior’s investigation to protect his subjects. That in and of itself is special.
Scott: Yeah! He, through disobedience, becomes a real man.
DR: But it recalls Coppola’s The Conversation, no?
Scott: Ha, unfortunately, I am again not familiar.
DR: Gene Hackman plays a similar character to Ulrich Muhe: the spy that forms a conscience. It’s spectacular. I still have a copy on VHS.
Scott: I’ll have to check it out. The transformation of Muhe – if that is the right word – is really the most arresting part of the film. Do you remember the last line of the film?
DR: When he buys that book?
Scott: Yeah. The vendor asks him if he is buying the book – which details Muhe’s saving of Dreyman from the Stasi – as a gift for someone. He responds, “No, it’s for me.” Powerful stuff.
DR: I remember that.
Scott: A final thought?
Scott: I think that the film works in a lot of ways. It is a narrative about real men and women overcoming the social roles and conflicts they find themselves in. It is a warning about the inevitable perils of state surveillance – abuse for personal gain, perversion, etc. However, my favorite theme in the film is the contrast between the creative: Dreyman’s plays and will to liberate, and the destructive: the Stasi’s state suppression through surveillance and violence. That Muhe, who was a writer at heart, ultimately recognizes the shared humanity between himself and his subject and transcends his inculcation as a “good German” into a “good man” is the most power idea in the film. Those themes go deep within the German/Continental tradition. I think Goethe said, “if you would create something, you must first be something.”
DR: Well said.
Scott: Von Donnersmarck specifically commissioned that Schubert-esq Sonata for the film – The Sonata for the Good Man. It is given to Dreyman by his friend before he commits suicide. Both Dreyman and Muhe are arrested by its beauty. Transcendence of the creative spirit yo!
DR: That always socks me in the gut. Well played, sir. What’s next?
DR: Gattaca. Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke’s spanish fly. This one’s kind of a mess, no?
Scott: (laughs) “Spanish Fly.” Love it. I don’t think it’s a mess! It’s a clean movie. Clean and sleek as its futurist and art-deco architecture!
DR: I’ll admit, I haven’t seen this one since it came out, and it was after that even, on HBO. I think in 1998. But I remember really hating this one. Maybe it was because I was in love with Uma Thurman and balked at Ethan Hawke all up on her, or maybe it was all over my head. Maybe I should have re-watched it for this interview. But as it stands, what endears it to you?
Scott: Well, the foundation of my appreciation for Gattaca is that it aptly illustrates a personal viewpoint of mine.
DR: Which is?
Scott: That, like the damned in a vice, man is crushed between the twin forces of his genetics and his social institutions. The film captures many of the constraints and burdens of humanity very well. Vincent is preoccupied with his inadequacy. Eugene is in the shadow of his failed perfection. Both – really all characters – are crushed under the weight of expectations. Only Vincent, through the apt metaphor of space travel, escapes the pull.
DR: He is “the one”. A recurring archetype in myth, not to mention, contemporary sci-fi.
Scott: Hmm. Only in a limited sense. He is not pre-ordained. Quite the opposite.
DR: How so?
Scott: Well. Vincent, unlike his brother, Eugene, Irene, and … everyone else of consequence, is an invalid. Someone who is NOT pre-calculated to approximate perfection. He IS messy and weak. An unlikely hero as commonly understood.
However, he IS unique in that, THROUGH THE TRIUMPH OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT, he is able to rise about his imposed destiny and realize his will in life. Through some serious Buzz Lightyear shit.
DR: But that’s just the point, isn’t it? I seem to recall a murder mystery, but it was all just window dressing to elaborate on the point that Vincent was the impending “different way” of this particular human future.
Scott: Well, there was a murder mystery, but I thought that was a pretty cool plot device to put Vincent “on a clock.”
When the cops are vaccuuming up everything in the office, the stakes of Vincent’s deception and ambitions are raised.
Anywho, I admit that Gattaca isn’t a perfect film, but it thematically resonated with me in an intensely personal way. Plus, it’s execution is not terrible. The acting is serviceable! Some great austere and stark photography! Jude Law is funny from time to time!
DR: Sweet Jesus.
Scott: Oh whatever. I don’t need your sass.
DR: That’s no way to sell a flick.
Scott: I’m not a marketer! I’m a man! You asked me what films I – in my unique self – enjoyed. Here I stand, I can do no more!
DR: Point. Having said as such, what is it about Gattaca that makes it to your Top 5 of this particular moment?
Scott: What “makes” it for me?
Scott: I think that the film posits that a man’s will, not his genetics nor the wishes of others, is rightly the central force to shape his his life. It’s a common, maybe banal, theme but I find it life affirming and necessary for me to get through my days. Gattaca explores this in an interesting and beautiful way. Additionally the world it is realized it is a striking and vaguely recognizable one, which makes the impact of its message all the greater.
DR: You bookended your interview pretty succinctly with your movie choices, by the way.
Scott: I do what I can.
DR: Which posits the question: where do you think we’re headed, as a people, in the near future?
Scott: More Children of Men than Gattaca sadly.
Scott: Hmm. Modern man has a new religion – scientific rationalism. With this god comes a vast prognostic power. We are able to observe the destructive consequences of our actions on ourselves and the natural world. However, tragically, we are unwilling – unable – to stop. I think that the we will be denied our big traumatic “end times.” Instead it will just be us. As always. Just now able to see our own end. Bigger weapons. Same chimp. Still murdering his brother on Monday, coveting his neighbor’s wife on Thursday, and asking for forgiveness on Sunday.
DR: I can’t say I don’t agree.
Scott: Thank you so much for the opportunity. You remain a good friend and inspiration. Take care, Amigo.
In 2008, Scott Kane Stukel moved from Ann Arbor, MI to Chicago, IL with only a change of clothes and his best intentions strapped to the back of his motorcycle. Five years later, the motorcycle is gone and he battles a crippling addiction to tortas. Scott dutifully serves on the board of Chicago Votes – a non-partisan civic education and engagement non-profit – and is about to complete his studies at Northwestern University School of Law. Prior to law school, Scott comprised one half of Grand & Noble – an Americana rock duet. He was a lot cooler back then. The band has tentatively scheduled a follow up EP for late 2014. You can find his Tumblr here.